New jobless claims fall for fifth week in a row in Washington state as hiring picks up

New unemployment claims in Washington dropped again last week as the state’s job market showed fresh signs of recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Washingtonians filed 11,398 new, or “initial,” claims last week, a 2.6% decrease from the previous week, the state Employment Security Department reported Thursday.

The ESD also reported the addition of 24,500 new jobs for February, the largest monthly increase since August, when the state added 30,500 jobs.

“The easing of restrictions to control the spread of COVID-19 is helping those in leisure and hospitality regain jobs,” said Paul Turek, the ESD’s state economist. “But hiring was also widespread across other industries, and the unemployment rate moved down accordingly.”

Washington’s jobless rate for February was 5.6%, down from 6% in January, the ESD reported last week. The U.S. unemployment rate was 6.2%.

The latest decline in jobless claims, the fifth consecutive weekly decrease, comes a year after Washington was hit by the first big wave of pandemic-related unemployment claims — 128,962 — which were filed during the week ending March 21, 2020.

Last week’s new claims, though, were still high by historical standards — roughly double the level for the same week in 2019.

Nationally, new jobless claims fell 12.4% to 684,000 last week, the U.S. Labor Department reported Thursday. Hiring has continued to accelerate: In February, the nation added 379,000 jobs, which was more than twice January’s number.

The ESD also revised the number of jobs added in Washington in January, from 4,400 to 10,100.

Hiring has been particularly strong in the leisure and hospitality sector, which has seen some of the steepest jobs losses during the pandemic. In February, the sector added 12,700 jobs.

Still, the state’s job market has plenty of ground to make up before a recovery is complete.

In February, the state’s total labor force stood at 3,837,400, or 124,600 fewer than in February 2020, the ESD reported.

The total number of weekly, or continuing, claims filed in Washington last week fell 4.3% from the prior week, to 417,021.

Last week, the ESD paid benefits on 307,364 individual claims, which was down around 1% from the prior week. Because individuals can have multiple claims, the number of claims is often slightly higher than the number of individual claimants.

Since March 2020, more than 1 million Washingtonians have been paid more than $16 billion in jobless benefits, with roughly two-thirds of the money coming from the federal government.

By comparison, in each of the previous 10 years, the ESD’s annual payout averaged just over $1 billion, said agency spokesperson Nick Demerice.